As part of one of my final seven (w00t!) courses to complete for my BComm in Marketing, I had to do an exhaustive brand audit and rehabilitation strategy paper for Air Canada. (Read it here if you're really, really bored) The extent to which Air Canada has pissed away the brand value in one of the most recognized brands in Canada is astounding -- all through massively-awful customer service at pretty much every touchpoint. Service across the industry is pretty much the same, with the exception of the JetBlue/Southwest/Westjet types of airlines, where you may not get any significant service features, but they're at least funny and friendly.
But man, I want to fly on Virgin America. Here's what customer service -- at least for geeks -- is all about. I'm not going to steal their copy -- go read what Artur Bergman had to say.
Okay, maybe they're selling the same cramped flying on an AirBus A319 as anyone else, but the on-board tech toys are a must-have. The bar just got raised a notch......
I was checking out The Tyee, a BC-based online mag, and noticed an ad in the sidebar for "Hammer Drop. One Product. One Deal. Every Day." It turns out that Hammer Drop is a product of Home Depot, but is virtually identical to the offbeat one-deal-a-day site and (I think) the originator of the idea, Woot.com. Woot.com has more interactivity -- for instance, a comment board for each product, where insta-reviews and commentary on the product, previous products, your dog, etc. are posted.
I also recently found Jellyfish, which offers a Smack of the Day, a pretty slick Flash-based variant of the deal-a-day concept, modelled on a game show concept. I know, I know, it's Flash. But it's one of the first examples of useful flash I've seen in a while. The interactivity is cool. Their idea is that the price of the item keeps dropping until enough people have purchased to exhaust the supply. It's mostly gamer-focused, but cool nonetheless.
My source for most that is intellectual and not computer-related is, of course, CBC Radio, one of the few non-Christian-rock stations available in the Rainy River District. This morning, the day after the Tragically Hip played in Thunder Bay, there was a brief piece on their sponsor for the Ontario leg of their tour BullFrog Power.
Bullfrog calls themselves the "the first 100% green electricity retailer in Ontario." Their gig is, switch your electricity service to them as all of the door-to-door electricity sales dinks keep trying to convince me to do and they will pump the equivalent usage amount into the grid from renewable energy generation facilities, made up of 20% wind power, and 80% low-impact hydro generation.
The only catch? Their price is higher 9.1 cents per Kwh. Ouch. That's close to double our base rate.
I love the concept, and have del.ic.o.us'd it for next year, when we actually can afford to pay more for electricity. Smaller eco-footprint sounds good to me. I was a little concerned about the scamminess of the idea, but given TTH's cadre of supported nonprofits, which includes the David Suzuki Foundation, I suppose they must be doing a little more than rubber-stamping their support for these orgs.
I just finished watching Ghost in the Shell, a film that many said was a significant influence on the Wachowski brothers in their creation of the Matrix trilogy.
I'm a geek. I get geek stuff. I don't get this film.
I see the references as noted in the wikipedia article on the film, and their impact on the development of the Matrix trilogy. What I don't get is the "massive significance" that has been noted by many in the manga/cyberpunk/tech groups who revere this film.
It's kind of embarassing for me as someone who, if given the opportunity, would wholeheartedly support the embedding of camera and recording equipment in my body believe me, I can't remember my name, let alone others, from day to day, and see this as a godsend - to not "get" this film. I feel the same way as I did when, 15 years ago, in university with my roommate Darren, watched "Akira," which was also labelled as an astonishing film with incredible impact -- and which I enjoyed until the last 20 minutes, in which it got so ridiculous that I wanted to shut it off. I guess I'm just not a manga kind of guy.
I'm on a new path to get better at PHP/MySQL, now that we've got a new programmer on staff, and I can abuse him as a resource. A cool snipped for poor-man's content management is what I came up with today. If you have a text file that a user wants to edit, but also wants to strip the pesky slashes from, and interpret carriage returns when writing the file, here's what I came up with. It also prints the file's modification date as an "Updated last" line:
//Declare the session variable value
//declare the report variable
$report = str_replace("\r\n", "<br>", $_POST['report']);
//declare and open the file for writing
$myfile = "myfile.txt";
$fh = fopen($myfile, 'w') or die("can't open file");
//write the form data to the report
Then we have the printed text, as well as the form, rolled into one file:
A few friends and I have been working on a point-to-multipoint wireless network since (feels like forever) April. We've run into a number of bumps in the road, which have resulted in spending of cash, pulling of hair, yelling at each other, climbing on rooftops in the dark, and cutting down large trees.
Tonight, we had major success -- three-player Halo 2 via xbox with voice mics, and no lag. (yes, we've been testing with something other than game consoles. We're not *completely* stupid this was just the fun test.) And, most importantly, running on the final spec'd hardware, of which we finally had all the pieces. I plan to document all the equipment ths weekend with the camera, but it includes:
Three homemade steel cantennas with feed horns
Two 19db panel antennae
One 100cm StarChoice dish, with a reverse cantenna as a feed horn
From the Apple Server list, someone posted a link to this article. Great piece of you're interested in computer (specifically server-related) security at all. Any article that can legitimately use the word "badness" gets a thumbs-up in my book.
We're off to Vermilion Bay this weekend for the annual meeting of Cambrian Presbytery (church stuff). Gorgeous location that I'm looking forward to exploring. We're hooking up with our usual group of teens from across NW Ontario for the annual fall youth retreat.
Sometimes the best e-mail and chat support in the world is no substitute for a conversation with a real person. But that kind of talk isn't cheap, so to cut costs, Net-based companies like Amazon often make their phone numbers hard to find. Not to worry: A site called Clichι Ideas has dug them up:
November 29 -- Happy Birthday to me! -- 3.5 miles, Treadmill, 3 degree incline November 30 -- Day Off
The nice thing about reaching the anaerobic stage in my runs is that it leaves me free to think about things other than the sound of my breathing. One of the things that occurred to me on Sunday had to do with the iTunes Music Store, and iPod/iTMS browsing.
I love my iPod and iTunes, and, for legal music, I think the iTMS is a pretty good mix between rights and freedoms in digital music. Not perfect, but good enough for me to plunk down some cash for (among other things) the new kd Lang album, and Lisa Loeb's recent release. Apple thinks I'm American, apparently, so I can buy from them.
So here's my issue. While I love the iPod/iTunes and their interfaces, I'm forever listening to it just in random play, since I'm too lazy to go searching for tunes. And, I find that when I browse the iTMS, I usually either search for a specific artist, or start from one of the links on the front.
Both Apple and stores like Amazon have recognized the value of associative product upselling ("People who bought X also bought Y, Z, A...." as well as the "Celebrity Playlist" concept). But what about if you could click through metadata associations of songs or albums in real-time?
Here's what I'm envisioning. You start with a song in the middle of the screen in, for lack of a better idea, a bubble, and have lines drawn from the song to other bubbles. Use Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as the example. These associated bubbles would be labelled with items that were directly associated with the song. A bubble attached to "Sweet Emotion" might be labelled "Armageddon Soundtrack," (shudder), with a sub-bubble that is labelled "movies." The movies link would go to other movies that have used the song in their soundtrack. The "Armageddon" link (shudder again) would go to the album, from which more bubbles would emerge. Now, picture the whole thing being in a 3D environment, where the bubbles get bigger and smaller as you move closer or further away from each one.
I can't believe Apple hasn't looked at doing something like this in the iTMS yet, from what we've heard publicly. Why can't I? Two reasons:
1) They're all about metadata these days. Look at the new "Spotlight" feature that's going to be built into the next version of Mac OS X (Tiger), which is metadata searching in realtime, through indexing of supported files or content and (bing!) metadata. Read more about it here.
2) They've already got the technology. Years and years ago, Apple had an idea like this that was a browser plugin and standalone application, called HotSauce (thank the Maker for Wikipedia). HotSauce generated a 3D visualization of the contents of a Meta Content Framework file that you could interactively browse. I remember downloading it and fooling around with it, but not seeing a feasible use for it.
I think this is it.
Hey Apple, I'll give you the whole package, too. Apple's penchant for taking words and making them into pseudo-trademarks (Rendezvous, Spotlight) fits this one perfectly. Just call it it this:
Okay, it's cheese, but then, so are the others. Look after the jump for a screengrab of HotSauce in action, courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Invisible Train is a mobile, collaborative multi-user Augmented Reality (AR) game, in which players control virtual trains on a real wooden miniature railroad track. These virtual trains are only visible to players through their PDA's video see-through display as they don't exist in the physical world. This type of user interface is commonly called the "magic lens metaphor."
I don't think it would hold Gareth's attention for very long -- and Naomi would wreck the PDA with drool and repetitive chewing.
I need a category for "so cool I can't stand it." Mike Melville did it again this morning, and took SpaceShipOne past the 65.3 mile mark, and completed part one of the two parts to win the Ansari X prize. Note the Virgin logo that is now on the tail of SpaceShipOne. Who cares? This is unbelievable. Now they have to make the next flight on Monday.
So, check this out: I'm spending some time tooling around on A9, Amazon's new search engine. It pulls results (and advertising links) from Google primarily, but has a contextual search and search history feature that's pretty neat. And, the combination of images and links on the same page is neat, too.
So, like everyone should do occasionally, I "a9-ed" (I don't think that'll catch on) my name. I see most of the typical stuff I usually find a la Google. However, I found the most bizarre link I've seen to my name yet. Apparently, I'm a remix from the UK.
So, I'm dealing with a security audit of our web server right now, since we have a new customer who jumped over that needs it for regulatory reasons. While there's nothing dreadfully serious about the results, I'm mad as hell at the fact that Red Hat Enterprise Server's wonderful, magical up2date utility has apparently *not* been functioning correctly. It won't even run from the CLI. Grrr.
Therein lies my biggest frigging frustration with (a) Linux, and (b) computers in general. If I had the level of reliability that these machines tend to have, I'd be fired. I know I'm committing some anthropomorphism here, but, come on. I'm in a "time to live on an island" mode at the moment. UPDATE: Apparently, it was running correctly. The security audit performed by Qualys isn't quite as comprehensive as it appears. Many of the vulnerabilities found by the scan are determined by testing version numbers, which Qualys finds simply by making a connection to the socket a program is listening on. This is not the same as testing for a vulnerability (and thank the lord they don't do that -- I'd be really pissed if they started poking into vulnerabilities, for testing purposes or not. Since RedHat back-ports patches, rather than upgrading versions, this means that what looks bad to Qualsys is actually just a version of the software that is stable, but patched.
This is what happens when automatic tools are used to perform security checks. Silly testing.
As anyone who knows me is aware of, I'm an advanced Mac user. I've been using them since my high school computer courses with Gord Devito at Sentinel Secondary School in West Vancouver (warning: web ugliness ahead). I fell into the category of one of the MacEvangelists (a la the inimitable Guy Kawasaki, who ran the Apple Mac EvangeList for a couple of years) for several years -- from about 1995-1999. I suffered through the "Dark Days" of Apple, as asshats like Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio drove Apple to the brink of bankruptcy. A side note: I can't believe that no one bought out Apple in 1998. It was like seeing a gold nugget lying in a mound of horse droppings, and not wanting to get dirty in order to take it home.
Tangents aside, what I did learn as a result of my rapt attention to the (mis)fortunes of Apple during that period, was how the market economy works. No more blank looks at the concepts of P/E ratios, market capitalization, EPS and EBITDA.
The realization that this was how my education in economics began was today, when I was checking my portfolio (which includes stock in Apple, bought at 17 9/16, thank you very much) and breezed through some analyst opinions, and saw that Bear Stearns downgraded Apple today because of inflated valuation concerns -- and I understood exactly why, since Apple's stock has taken a fairly meteroric climb in the last 4-5 months, based partially on the success of the iTunes Music Store, but also the success of the iPod.
My concern with Apple's stock is that the iTunes Music Store is now about to deal with a significant competitor, and that the iPod, as cool as it is (I'm trying to figure out how I can afford a new one, so I can, um, "give" the old one to Frances), is a positioning product for future product diversification (home media/wireless entertainment), not one to base the company's future on at the expense of their traditional products. Although, from what it sounds like the profit margins are comparatively on the eMac and the iPod, they're better off selling the latter.
From BoingBoing, I saw this chart, a cool visual of the moral flowchart suggesting whether to rip a CD to mp3/OGG/AAC files on your hard drive.
I'm in the push at home to get all our CDs ripped to MP3s -- I'm at over 28GB, 5500 songs, and about 50% of the way through -- so I found this quite funny. I also am a proponent of the iTunes Music Store. Yes, I know that copy protection sucks, but I think FairPlay is better than any other copy protection, and I can live with it. Yes, I wish that their AAC files were ripped at more than 128k, although I find the 128k files to be at least as good as 160kbps mp3 rips. Yes, I wish it were available in Canada (athough, for some reason it thinks I'm an American citizen, and takes my Canadian credit card. Yay me! Boo, my credit card balance.).
In the mean time, I'm now searching for another hard drive at home, since my 60GB media drive is getting full, what with the 25GB of home videos still to finish editing, and the 28GB of tunes. The iTunes streaming feature is, by the way, the best thing ever. No more having to refresh the playlists and library on the upstairs iMac to get all the newest music. Cool.
My apologies to anyone trying to find info here -- in the face of the catastrophic meltdown that the Fort Frances Times web server suffered last week, we've lost the last year of data on here. I'd probably be more choked if I had actually posted more than once every two weeks.
I'm working at restoring everything to its previous condition, but in the meantime, it's kinda broken. Be back in a while...
I have six -- count 'em, six -- different email accounts, between work and home. I am inundated with spam on a regular basis. I have essentially given up hope of eliminating spam from my accounts, until I find an effective and non-restrictive server-side solution for our mail server at work. I used to submit spam to SpamCop on a regular basis, until I became a parent, and realized that the limited time I get to myself on the computer needed to spent actually reading the "real" email I get.
Now, I find more enjoyment in others' attempts to foil spammers' dastardly and despicable practices. A very humorous read is The Spam Letters, whose author picks specific spam mail and responds to it -- outrageously.
For those who have received as many offers as I have from Nigerian military leaders to make many millions, there are several hilarious stories of people who have corresponded with these scam artists, including The Mike Aba story, one person who actually got money out of a scammer, they guy who pretended to be David Lee Roth, and my favorite, the Doctor Solomon story, complete with pictures of the scammer.
In November, I received my birthday present early from Mom, Dad, Lerrin & Lisa -- an XBox. Anyone who knows my computing platform preferences may be shocked to hear that.
But I love it.
The XBox console has amazing graphics. I'll admit that I was excited about the Playstation 2 when it came out, and was underwhelmed by the quality of the graphics. I'm definitely more-than-whelmed at the quality of the XBox. Click below to read more...
The XBox has a built-in hard drive, which means the game data is all saved internally. A definite plus over my Sega DreamCast with its memory cards a la the Playstation (which, if you have a chance to pick up, do so. The quality of the DreamCast is amazing, and the machines can be had extraordinarily cheap).
I'm not a hard-core gamer, to be honest. I enjoy goofing around with games, but my days of spending 4+ hours on a game at a sitting are definitely over -- I think that comes with parenthood. But I've whiled many hours away playing Halo so far, and I'm not bored yet. Stuck, yes. Bored, no. I do wish that the multiplayer option in it had bots to fight, since my friend Bear and I have crushed each other under the weight of the flying warthog too many times. I currently own Halo, Max Payne, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 for the XBox. I also got the DVD playback kit for it, so that I could watch the Original Edition, and the Extended Edition of Lord of the Rings that I bought. (Yes, pathetic. And if you haven't seen LOTR yet, don't even bother talking to me anymore.)
The downsides to the XBox? They are:
It's loud. Thank goodness for the closed TV cabinet so I can seal it in.
The original controllers, quite frankly, suck. The third-party controller I got made by MadCat is much better.
Not as many games available for the XBox as other consoles. But hey, I'm a Mac user. I'm used to being the last one on the block to get the newest games. :-)
News for nerds. Be afraid. As the Apple Turns
News from the Mac universe with a twist. MacSlash
News for (Mac) nerds. Be more afraid. Plastic
If it's a bizarre news story, it's here. For nerds and non-nerds alike.
Tech news from the other side of the pond.